It’s probably an exaggeration to credit Google’s Pixel A devices for single-handedly maintaining the broader line during some admittedly lean times. Let’s face it, a lot of that goes into Google’s very deep pockets – if you’re one of the world’s largest companies, what’s a minor misconception about sunk costs between friends?
However, the budget devices have been a lifesaver, bolstering the line as the Pixel division was still desperately trying to gain a foothold. It’s safe to say that – after several false starts – Google finally found success with the Pixel 6. It was the first time in the history of the line that the company could credibly claim that it had released a flagship.
A new hardware design, coupled with the company’s first internal Tensor chip and some solid new camera hardware, paired well with several generations of software improvements. Fortunately, the Pixel 6a shares more DNA with the Pixel 6 than it does with the Pixel 5a. The biggest connective tissue between the products is Google’s broader overall strategy of a release cadence of about six months. First you drop the flagship; then you arrive six months later with its budget equivalent.
It’s an approach that seems to work well. You appease the early adopters with the original product and eventually some of the new features trickle down to its namesake. By the time it arrives, you’ll be ready to hear about its successor. It’s no coincidence, of course, that the company teased the Pixel 7 alongside the 6a announcement. It’s a tacit reminder that while the 6a actually looks pretty good, something even better is on the way. It is the tyranny of choice that is effectively monetised.
It’s an important part of Google’s approach, as the 6a is a largely effective exercise in reducing the right costs. It’s still a mid-tier/budget device, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a budget/mid-tier device with the heart of a flagship.
The building materials are most immediately visible. The 6a is more tacky than its immediate successor. That’s especially a big deal if you’re someone who wears your device without a case. Those people exist. I will never understand them, but they exist. You do lose some durability on the front of the device, with a downgrade from Gorilla Glass Victus to Gorilla Glass 3.
The screen size has also been reduced, from 6.4 inches to 6.1 inches (still a 1080p OLED, albeit with a noticeably higher pixel density), with a 60Hz refresh rate versus the 6’s 90Hz (neither goes up to 120, note) . Honestly, the smaller screen is probably an improvement for many. The 6 is a big phone. This is much more reasonable for a wider spectrum of hands.
There’s no onboard wireless charging, and predictably, the camera gets a notable hardware downgrade, reducing the 50-megapixel wide and 12-megapixel ultra-wide dual sensors to a pair of 12-megapixel wide/ultrawide.
Google has maintained for generations that hardware is not as important as software when it comes to imaging smartphones. However, the last few Pixel devices have been a rejection of that theory. You could argue that it’s truer today than it was a few generations ago, but great smartphone shots still require the right marriage of the two. That said, you can still take quality photos on the 6a – a fact aided by some impressive software advancements made over the years, including features like Magic Eraser. Also key is the inclusion of the same Tensor chip found in the Pixel 6, which delivers many of those important additions.
The new (well, new) chip delivers impressive power gains when stacked against the 5a. The 6a sings to midtier device standards. The built-in 6GB of RAM is a downgrade from the 8GB of the 6, but it should get the job done. Storage is the same at 128 GB, although there is no 256 GB upgrade option. The battery, meanwhile, gets a slight decrease in mAh, from 4,614 to 4,410, but you can get through that for more than a day, no problem.
However, the most impressive thing about the Pixel 6a is the price. The 6 was a very reasonable $599, and the company managed to get another $150 off. Good luck finding more bang for your buck.